Professor Draper’s summary of the relations of the Church to science or learning, and his declaration of her absolute refusal to recognize anything as scholarship, except what was deduced from the Scriptures, shows how far a man can go in his assumption of knowledge when he knows literally nothing about a subject. For him the Dark Ages knew nothing because he knows nothing about them. If they knew anything, he would know it, but he does not. Of one or two men he knows something, but they are exceptions to the general rule of absolute negation of intellectual interests and developments…It is especially striking to take a paragraph of Professor Draper’s, in which he sums up a whole movement, and place beside it a paragraph of a serious and informed student of the same subject. Professor Draper inherited the old traditions of lazy monks, living in idleness, a drain on the country, of absolutely no benefit to themselves or to others. Professor Draper wrote:
“While thus the higher clergy secured every political appointment worth having, and abbots vied with counts, in the herds of slaves they possessed–some, it is said, owned not fewer than twenty thousand–begging friars pervaded society in all directions, picking up a share of what still remained to the poor. There was a vast body of non-producers, living in idleness and owning a foreign allegiance, who were subsisting on the fruits of the toil of the laborers. It could not be otherwise than that small farms should be unceasingly merged into the larger estates; that the poor should steadily become poorer; that society far from improving, should exhibit a continually increasing demoralization.”
As a commentary on this, read the following paragraph from Mr. Ralph Adams Cram’s book on “The Ruined Abbeys of Great Britain,” in which he describes what the monasteries actually did for the people. Mr. Cram has made a special study of the subject in connection with the magnificent architecture which these medieval monks developed, and which he would like to have our people appreciate and emulate. Professor Draper is much more positive, but Mr. Cram is much more convincing.
“At the height of monastic glory the religious houses were actually the chief centres of industry and civilization, and around them grew up the eager villages, many of which now exist, even though their impulse and original inspiration have long since departed. Of course, the possessions of the abbey reached far away from the walls in every direction, including many farms even at a great distance, for the abbeys were then the great landowners, and beneficent landlords they were as well; even in their last days, for we have many records of the cruelty and hardships that came to the tenants the moment the stolen lands came into the hands of laymen.”
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)